Crunk and Disorderly

Every Saturday night, East St. Louis explodes with one of the wildest parties you've never seen

A tap on the shoulder is followed by a friendly but stern warning: "You best step aside. They're coming this way."


For the past 30-plus years, entertainment has been the East Side's most bankable -- and very nearly only -- commodity, be it in the form of gambling, sex or music. If you want to get dirty in St. Louis, if you want to lose control for a while, if you want to take a chance, head to the area's debauched zone, St. Vegas.

"That's the true nature of crunk: getting wild and taking your shirt off and running around screaming, acting crazy, spitting water," says security staffer Debo.
Jennifer Silverberg
"That's the true nature of crunk: getting wild and taking your shirt off and running around screaming, acting crazy, spitting water," says security staffer Debo.
"We had a lot of fighting going on, people getting high, intoxicated, drinking liquor, whatever, and that affects you. The smallest thing would trigger something terribly big," says Big Sexy Kooool DJ Kaos.
Jennifer Silverberg
"We had a lot of fighting going on, people getting high, intoxicated, drinking liquor, whatever, and that affects you. The smallest thing would trigger something terribly big," says Big Sexy Kooool DJ Kaos.

These days, the sex industry gets the most attention, but the music has created the myths. Chuck Berry played his first gigs with Johnnie Johnson here; Miles Davis unveiled his horn; Ike rode his horse, Tina, into the history books. In the '70s, downtown East St. Louis was still hopping; in their heyday, George Clinton and Bootsy Collins of Parliament used to fly in to party on weekends -- even as the city's finances were collapsing. Radio station WESL-AM, the voice of the East Side, was the first in the country to play the Sugarhill Gang's seminal jam "Rapper's Delight."

And now, nearly a quarter-century later, East St. Louis is once again a musical center, this time for crunk, the lowdown Southern-flavored brand of rap that's moving the crowd tonight -- and every Friday and Saturday night -- down here. Crunk is slow but the hi-hat's fast, which gets the dancers going hard.

Crunk is a rough-and-ready subgenre of rap, and it rules the East Side. It's party music, made for dancing, designed not so much for profound lyrical expression as for barking and hollering. Since its rise as a distinct subgenre in the late '90s, it has been dismissed as second-class by rap snobs, who claim it conveys a bleak, aggressive message. The lyrics are filled with "bitches," "niggas," "motherfuckers" and "hoes" -- so many epithets that the words end up losing at least some of their literal meaning. But, says bouncer Debo, "That's the true nature of crunk: getting wild and taking your shirt off and running around screaming, acting crazy, spitting water." Over the course of an evening, Debo will be seen engaging in each of these activities, living it up, working.

"When we talk crunk music," says Kaos, "it's usually a slow beat. But with the hi-hat speed played the way that it is over a track, it makes it seem faster than it really is." Because of this rhythmic tension, crunk seems simultaneously slow and syrupy, manic and relentless; the sibilant hi-hat adds a freneticism to the music, and the bass rumbles the rump. Add a bunch of dudes chanting, barking orders in harmony, calling and responding, marching to a very deep drum, and you've got some hard, solid dance music that, though created for partying, is also pretty pissed off. It's music made by men, and the guys here respond to it with all of their energy.

The ladies here dance -- and they can dance. The men here dance -- and wrestle and push and shove and fall. And then get helped up by the dudes who just pushed them down.

From his DJ booth, Kaos can see them all, a restless ocean of thugs and honeys; arms are up in the air, fingers are signing: North Side! South Side! East Side! (You won't see many "West Side" signs; Ladue's not too well represented at the Monastery.) Within this sea, a tiny pocket emerges, a little hole in the humans, and then another. Inside, guys -- shirtless and tight -- start pushing one another, but they're still bouncing to the song, Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz's "I Don't Give a Fuck," the song that rules this club right now.

It's what they're screaming that adds tension to the party. It's late. You're in East St. Louis at a crowded, drunken club, and everyone is chanting, "I don't give a fuck." When Kaos kicks it, the crowd goes nuts:

I got that North Side wit me, I don't give a fuck!
I got that South Side wit me, I don't give a fuck!
We rollin' deep in this bitch so fuck y'all niggas,
We rollin' deep in this bitch so fuck y'all niggas,
I got that dirty South wit me, I don't give a fuck!
I got that Midwest wit me, I don't give a fuck!
If security step up we'll crush dem niggas
If security step up we'll crush dem niggas

Say you're a bouncer at the Monastery. Patrons outnumber you at least 75-1, and you're responsible for maintaining control. OK, fine. That's your job. You've accepted it. But then Lil Jon's voice erupts from the sound system, preaching to his people: "If security step up we'll crush dem niggas!" And they're screaming it in your club.

Good luck. Welcome to the party. Now get to work and control this motherfucker.


Terrence walks through a Wednesday-afternoon version of the Monastery, one that more closely resembles a monk's home. It's quiet here, and dark, and what sunlight there is shines through plate-glass front doors. Three or four people lounge on couches and comfy chairs around a pool table. Four televisions dangle from the ceiling, broadcasting some daytime nonsense. As he tours the club, Terrence points out improvements he's made, walls he's constructed, layout changes.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
St. Louis Concert Tickets
Loading...